Perfectionism and Imposter Syndrome

Perfectionism in one person can lead to imposter syndrome in another person...Since each state, perfectionism and imposter syndrome, feed on one another, the cycle is very hard to break.

In “An Irony to Remember, Perfectionism Leads to Discontent,” the author discusses how perfectionist characteristics; expecting and comparing your work to an idealized standard, makes it nearly impossible to feel content. Perfectionism is often a characteristic of the gifted or twice exceptional profile. Taking it a step further, for people living with and loving perfectionists, they may be the brunt of what I am going to call “nasty perfectionism behavior.” If your child, partner, spouse or boss has an inner drive to achieve the unachievable, they will look to blame in order to sooth their perceived failures. This drive to do things in a particular way and the fear of letting others down ends in the largest let down; seeing oneself as less than perfect. It’s this self-imposed degradation that leads to unkind behavior towards one’s self and others in an attempt at protection from disappointment. At its base, “nasty perfectionism behavior” as I am describing it, is when someone avoids disappointment in himself by projecting disappointment on others. When this happens, formerly bright, accomplished and strong selves wallow in self-criticism or play the role of ‘less than’ in order to appease the perfectionist.

To combat perfectionism, look at what drives you. What makes you want to do well and succeed? If it’s altruistic or for the benefit of someone or for the greater good, then that in itself is worthy of recognition. Additionally, compare yourself only with yourself. See how far you’ve come, how much you’ve learned, and set goals for yourself holding only yourself accountable and adjusting as needed.

If you live with a perfectionist and can help him/her to see this new perspective, great. If the perfectionist you live or work with takes their frustration at their inability to reach the out-of-reach-goal they’ve set for themselves, and makes you feel less than worthy because of it, recognize it for what it is. Do not fall into the trap of blaming yourself or diminishing your self-confidence.

Perfectionism in one person can lead to imposter syndrome in another person. Imposter syndrome, or feeling like you can’t possibly be as worthy as you or others once thought you were, opens you up to a toxic cycle. The perfectionist experiences frustration and doubt. To feel better the perfectionist may complain about, blame or put down another person. Then the blamed person experiences self-doubt and an inability to perform. Since each state, perfectionism and imposter syndrome, feed on one another, the cycle is very hard to break. Both people need to want to break the cycle. Both people have to independently look at how their behavior affects themselves and others. They need to own the challenges in order to move forward. The problem is, perfectionists already spend a lot of energy avoiding their mistakes and those affected by imposter syndrome begin to believe that this is who they are – the person who is less than who they thought themselves to be. Unfortunately, change may not come until a situation is intolerable and toxic. While it is admirable to aim high – not so if others are knocked down along the way. Don’t do it and don’t let others do it to you.

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Julie F. Skolnick M.A., J.D.

Julie F. Skolnick M.A., J.D.

Julie Skolnick, M.A., J.D., is the Founder of With Understanding Comes Calm, LLC, through which she passionately guides parents of gifted and distractible children, mentors 2e adults, and collaborates with and advises educators and professionals on bringing out the best and raising self-confidence in their students and clients.

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